Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Atonement: not a glorious depiction of the Dunkirk evacuation

The only Ian McEwan novel I have read in full is Saturday and I found his prose rather tortuous and off putting. I consequently went to see Atonement last night with no more knowledge of the book than that furnished by a brief glance through the opening pages and a read of the synopsis.

Without being able to make a comparative analysis of the film and the text, I cannot comment on whether McEwan’s intentions were being followed, particularly as I understand the author declined to adapt the novel himself. Whether the rather post-apocalyptic rendering of Dunkirk was McEwan’s therefore, somebody may wish to clarify for me.

The anarchic dystopia the film presented, which to my mind was almost reminiscent of Apocalypse Now, hardly rang true as a portrayal of one of the greatest episodes of discipline and national unity in the history of World War 2. I acknowledge that these historical niceties may not have been paramount in the mind of the director. My girlfriend, who has a much more astute critical eye than I do, pointed out that the entire story can only be understood through the prism of the putative author’s imagined narration. I also appreciate McAvoy’s character is in an altered state of consciousness during these scenes and the presentation of what most undoubtedly have been a disorientating and frightening event reflects this.

The film was otherwise engaging, despite the presence of the perpetually smug McAvoy and Kiera Knightley, whose transformation into some manner of exotic, concave alien is almost complete. A changing social landscape, the ravages of war and the relationship between reality and the imaginative process are all themes which are raised and developed successfully. Again, whether these tally with the themes of the book, I am in no position to judge.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have not seen the film. I managed to read about a hundred pages of the novel before I gave it up. I was unable to engage with the book.
Peter

Chekov said...

Peter - I've also had problems reading McEwan in the past.

Anonymous said...

McEwan was heavily involved in the film as Exec Producer though he felt unable to adapt his novel without sacrificing much of its content (a 130,000 + word novel into a 20,000 word script ain't easy to do, basically a demolition job!) It was director Joe Wright's decision to follow the plot of the novel fairly closely but introduce his own interpretation of its themes and how it might look. Haven't read the novel but I understand it is McEwan's best - quite complicated, moving inside the consciousness of the central characters.
The film looks brilliant, thanks largely to the efforts of D.o.P Seamus McGarvey, an Ulsterman to b! The Dunkirk scene is truly an amazing cinematic achievement - a 5 minute steadi-cam tracking shot, all in one take - epic stuff, capturing the gritty reality of what took place. It wasn't the disciplined withdrawal that some would have you believe, it was dis-organised chaos - the BEF was in full-scale retreat! Of course this reflects the state of mind of McAvoy's character and contrasts with the idyllic ambience of the Hallis country residence at the start of the film. All in all, an excellent British film - with film-makers like Joe Wright and Shane Meadows, there's hope yet for the British film industry!